There are a boundless number of troops stationed near where I dance, and while they all seem grateful when I come into work, none of them thanked me like my boss did last night.
The DJ told me he was going to hang himself in the DJ booth if I didn’t show up. I overslept and by 7:10, the men had started to worry that I wouldn’t show. Most employees would get reprimanded for showing up late. I got chocolate covered almonds that my manager pilfered from the DJ. Because if I don’t show, the club doesn’t make money. And that gives me a lot of freedom.
I am pretty good at my job, which is slightly harder than just looking good naked. To be fair, not much harder. But a good stripper has to do more than know how to take off her clothes. A good stripper is a comedian, a psychologist and an economist. To pick the best customers out of a crowd, she has to know where the money is flowing in the economy. I have thrilled pharmaceutical reps on business trips to Merck and Johnson & Johnson, consoled the brokers on Wall Street through the financial crisis who lined up in droves when the market hit bottom, provided sanctuary to accountants during tax season and yes, sent 18 year-olds, with enlistment bonuses in hand off to war. Every stripper knows that a “kid” aka a man under the age of 30, doesn’t have money. But our government does and they hand it out freely to boys who want to pick up a gun. Boys who believe it is their duty to defend my right to run around naked for money.
I remember the first soldier I ever gave a lap dance to. It was June 2008 and I had just started dancing at a full-nude strip club. Before that, I had worked at a go-go bar with a primarily Costa Rican clientele. In New Jersey, fully nude clubs are not allowed to serve alcohol. Because of that law, the age to enter a fully nude club is 18, not 21.
It was 1:30 on a Saturday night and I was tired. I had worked a 14 hour day and I was dreaming of a RU Mart tuna sub. I had ignored the soldier’s group all night, too busy with my “whales,” men from the lucrative local pharmaceutical industry. The kind of men who come from India, learn English from a medical dictionary and devote their lives to creating injectable tumour-busting cancer treatments and drugs for rare endocrine disorders. The kind of men who don’t mind spending $450 an hour to explain to a hardline capitalist with the-girl-next-door face why Barrack Obama would be a great president. I had no time for little boys, no time to ask why they were there.
I was getting ready to sneak out the door. But I stopped for a minute at the DJ booth to tip out Rob the DJ. It was the end of the night, so I was only wearing a thong, too lazy to put my bra on. A kid came up to me and asked me for a dance. He had light brown hair and a baby face. He was not much taller than me and looked younger than my over-grown little brother. He said he had been trying to get my attention all night. Yea, no matter how tired I am, that guilt trip always gets me.
I brought him in the back and started dancing for him, every few seconds surreptitiously glancing at the clock, willing it to move faster. After 1:00, that last hour of work, the clock always seems to slow down. Out of politeness, I asked if he wanted another. He said yes. Four minutes went by. Ok, maybe three. And I asked him for another. He said yes. And another. And another. As we danced, his friends came in and out with different girls. Even at 1:50, the lap dance area was filled with fresh faced kids who had waited all night for this dancer or that dancer. My girlfriend, a pretty blonde girl draped in tattoos, sat next to us with one of his friends. They came and went and still, my customer wanted more. 20 eight minutes went by. I started to get nervous. Would this kid have the money to pay me?
Finally, Rob turned the lights on and turned the music down. A mindless house song played in the background. It was time to tell the kid that I had to go home. I asked him to come back the next time I worked and told him my schedule.
“It will probably be a while.” He said. I asked why.
He told me he was going to Iraq in the next couple of days. A local army base was deploying a large group of troops to Iraq within the next few days. These kids wanted to see something they wouldn’t see for at least another year—good old American strippers. They probably wanted a beer too but in America 18 year-olds are allowed to kill, not drink. He told me that he figured he might as well spend most of his signing bonus before he went in case he didn’t come back.
In case, he didn’t come back. Those were his words. It was the first time I felt the finality of someone going off to a foreign country where they would be shot at and blown up. I will never forget it. He never came back to the club and I don’t know why.
Hopefully he grasped the foolishness of dumping all that money and vowed never to return. I hope he did.
These days, I don’t see many boys heading off to war. These days, I see more of them returning with stories of things they often tell no one else. Kids who come to hear my silly stories and forget, looking to fill their heads with the sight of breasts, instead of the things they did to protect our right to show them.
I’ll be writing about what these kids let slip and whisper in the dark when they finally have someone to listen.
There’s nothing I can say to help them at the time, but here and now, maybe I can let them know that they are not alone.
And they shouldn’t drop their signing bonuses in a strip joint.
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